THE COLD WATER OF BYLAW 5-1 (J)
In 1983 the NCAA adopted Proposition 48 and sent word to high school administrators: You had better start teaching your athletes or they won't be allowed to play when they get to college. Bylaw 5-1 (J)—the designation that 48 was given when it became official—stipulates that entering college athletes have a minimum score of 700 on the combined College Board SAT test (or a 15-of-36 score on the American College Test) and a 2.0 high school grade point average in 11 core courses. The SAT score can dip to 660 if it's balanced by a higher GPA, and grades as low as 1.8 are acceptable if the SAT is above 700. Athletes who don't satisfy the criteria must sit out both competition and practice as freshmen. Schools can keep such athletes on scholarship, but the athletes then forfeit a year of eligibility.
As SAT scores come rolling in, 5-1 (J) is becoming harsh reality: Dozens of athletes won't be allowed to take part in sports during the coming school year. Of the 47 football players on Parade magazine's high school All-America team, at least eight will be ineligible. Alabama had one of the country's best freshman football classes, but five of 29 recruits won't play this year. Illinois' blue-chip basketball recruits, Nick Anderson and Ervin Small, must sit out, as must Michigan's Rumeal Robinson and Terry Mills. Top Notre Dame basketball recruit Keith Robinson didn't score 700 on his SATs, and neither did John Foley, a linebacker who was one of the hottest prospects in the nation.
Notre Dame will allow Robinson and Foley to keep their scholarships while they try to attain the academic standing that will enable them to play as sophomores. "It might be better if I don't play this year," says Foley. "I've been playing football for 12 years. I'll have a chance to rest my body and study." But many schools feel they cannot afford the luxury of letting ineligible athletes retain their free rides. "There's no way I can have a player getting a scholarship who isn't contributing on the field," says Eastern Michigan soccer coach Chris Corteg, who lost two recruits when they failed to meet the requirements.
Some athletes, like basketball star Dwayne Davis of Florida, are paying their own tuition as freshmen rather than losing a year of NCAA eligibility by accepting a scholarship offer. This practice worries Bill Bradshaw, athletic director at DePaul. "My fear is that a booster will pay a kid's way under the table for the first year, in order to guarantee him four years of eligibility," he says.
Other athletes simply aren't accepting the prospect of sitting out. Kevin Cutler, a 6'7" forward, hoped to play basketball this year for Cal State-Fullerton but will enroll instead at Arizona Western, a junior college not under NCAA jurisdiction. "The junior colleges are getting fat," says Jake Caldwell, basketball coach at powerful Jackson High in Miami.
The effects of 5-1 (J) have prompted many to take a second look at the rule. A primary criticism is that it's "culturally biased" against blacks and other inner-city youths who struggle with standardized tests. "The truth is, 70 percent of all senior athletes in this city won't qualify," says Landon Cox, basketball coach of Martin Luther King High in Chicago. Foreigners, too, may have difficulties with the SAT tests. Torgeir Ekkje, a swimmer from Oslo who will attend Michigan, had a B-plus average in high school but scored only 570 on his combined SATs, in part because he wasn't used to multiple-choice exams. "I think there will be a definite cutback on foreign athletes coming to the States," says Michigan coach Jon Urbanchek, a Hungarian refugee who himself swam for the Wolverines in the early '60s.
Another argument maintains that 5-1 (J) sets absolute admissions standards that might be at odds with a school's academic philosophy. Notre Dame, for instance, has a history of educating and graduating its chosen athletes; why is the NCAA interfering with the college's tradition of success?
But not every school is Notre Dame, and many educators feel something must finally be done about the hypocrisy rampant in the area of educating athletes. Some coaches feel that way, too. "Terry Mills is just now beginning to understand why education is so important," says Al Wilkerson, Mills's coach for four years at Romulus ( Mich.) High.
"For the first time in their lives, somebody's taking the ball away and saying, 'You can't compete until you get your grades up,' " says Bradshaw. "It's a glass of cold water in their faces."